Africa Day: Fatoumta Saidy (2 years old), her mother Jankeh Saidy, Horija Bojang and Lamin Bojang all from Gambia, in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin during Africa Day last Sunday

The queues started early last Sunday outside the Iveagh Gardens, a park in the posh south inner city of Dublin. It was Africa Day (an official celebration of the African Union) and for the second year running, Irish Aid and the Department of Foreign Affairs centred the celebrations on this Victorian garden. Hundreds queued down the street to get in, the weather was nice and the general feelgood atmosphere lured plenty of Dubliners for an afternoon of food, music, booze and hanging out. A good news story, I suppose, and Africa Day is a great idea and a well-run event with boundless good intentions.

About a month previously, a rally was held starting in the less-posh north inner city of Dublin. The rally was about remembering Toyosi Shittabey, a 15-year-old who was stabbed to death in Tyrrelstown as he walked home from the National Aquatic Centre with his friends. It was well attended, but no-one queued all day to join, like so many did over in the Iveagh Gardens.

The popularity of Africa Day says lots of things, but primarily it shows a willingness and eagerness among the public to engage with different cultures. The Festival of World Cultures which takes place every year in Dun Laoghaire, another great event, covers similar territory. Isn't it a pity though that native Irish people are willing to engage with the fun bits of what integration has offered us – events centred around exotic food and good tunes – but not with the more immediate and serious issues of integration? There is a certain amount of cultural voyeurism at work here: we'll go and hang out and feel hip at such events but, ultimately, although they encourage a sunny and happy-clappy version of integration, they're all rather superficial.

Pointing this out is not designed to make people feel bad. Joining a highly emotional protest is not exactly preferable to hanging out in a pretty park with a carnival atmosphere on a sunny day with your friends. But which is more important? Can you imagine the reaction if thousands of white Irish people had joined that Toyosi rally instead of just the Tyrrelstown community, a clutch of unions, the ubiquitous Socialist Workers Party and a smattering of others who were touched enough by the senseless killing of a young man that they felt compelled to walk with their fellow Dubliners? Can you imagine the message that would have sent out?

In order properly to build a diverse society, we must engage with all elements of our communities, and with all of the issues that everyone within those communities face, not just the fun bits.

The Slate, a brilliant, now-defunct, satirical Irish publication, famously once ran a cover story called 'Blacks in the Jacks' which satirised the trend of hiring black men and women to work in Irish pub and nightclub toilets. That was in 2002. Yet still every weekend, despite a general discomfort at the practice, hundreds of Africans dry the hands and clean up the vomit of Irish people for a few quid. They are treated with a cautious disdain, or in an overly friendly manner to mask personal guilt, or are ignored completely and viewed as anonymous chewing-gum dispensers and hand driers. A silent tolerance exists.

There is obviously a deep-rooted unease in having black people act as servants for mostly white people in toilets, but the unease isn't vocalised enough to make it stop. Would we tolerate it as much if native Irish people had these jobs? Of course, they wouldn't take them, but still. And it's not a case of 'someone has to do it'. The idea of toilet attendants is pointless. No one really needs toilet paper handed to them. Granted, toilets need to be cleaned on and off throughout the night, but how did we get through this before immigration?

Oddly enough, it's children who break most taboos and who really instigate integration. Unlike most adults, they don't harbour automatic prejudices. A glance into many playgrounds in Ireland demonstrates the expanding roots of a diversity, devoid of tokenism. Children, largely untainted by the intolerance of social order and lumped together by our education system, are generally colour blind and tend to respond first to personality, not race or social background. Native Irish people could learn a lot from that, as could immigrants themselves, as integration is a two-way system and the responsibility doesn't rest 100% with 'those who were here first'.

But if the most that native Irish people have to do with people of African origin is to tip them in a pub toilet for a squirt of liquid hand wash, then toddling along to Africa Day doesn't make up for it.